A prestigious secondary school has decided to convert from aided status to the direct subsidy scheme (DSS) from next year in order to free itself from education reform measures facing aided and Government schools. The board of St Paul's College in Bonham Road, Mid-levels, founded in 1851 and the oldest secondary school in Hong Kong, decided on Tuesday that the college would soon lodge an application for the switch. The move is seen as a backlash by the so-called elite schools against measures to make schooling less pressured and fairer for students by reducing banding and axing competitive exams for secondary allocation. Principal Timothy Ha Wing-ho said the move was partly linked to the school's reservations over reforms which it believed would result in mediocrity and widen the range in students' abilities. St Paul's College's move follows a similar decision by St Paul's Co-educational College, also in Mid-levels, last month. The 34 primary and secondary schools operating under the DSS scheme enjoy greater flexibility than public-sector schools. They can exercise full discretion over student intake, curriculum design and setting fee levels. Unlike public sector schools, they can select students through examinations. Following the scheme's revision in June, a DSS school can receive a recurring subsidy of about $29,500 per student if its tuition fees do not exceed $68,000 a year. Ip Kin-yuen, lecturer in the department of education policy and administration at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, said the decision by the two colleges would accelerate the exodus of elite schools from the public sector. Children from poorer families could be disadvantaged in competing for places in such fee-paying schools. But Mr Ha said the school had set up a taskforce to work out tuition fees and remission arrangements. 'We won't turn into a club for rich and children will not be deprived of opportunity of entering our school because their parents are too poor,' he said. About 20 primary and secondary schools run by the Catholic Education Office and Sheng Kung Hui, including Diocesan Boys' School in Mongkok and Wah Yan College (Hong Kong) in Wan Chai, are also considering such a move. Mr Ip said elite schools switching to DSS would compete with their public-sector counterparts on an unequal platform. Mr Ha said he hoped his college could switch to the scheme in the 2002/2003 school year while the primary section could follow in 2003/2004.